Tag Archives: Legal research

How Much Does Spinning the Chamber Really Help?

Really? A math word problem in law school?

Ok, here’s a hypothetical problem for you: (Do not try this at home. Or anywhere.)

Let’s say it’s 1945 and you’re seventeen and  just sitting at the lunch counter with your 13 year-old friend. You’re bored. Television is just kicking off and the Simpsons are years away from being reality. So you start thinking. “Hmmm. What can two kids do to pass the time?”

“Well,” you say to yourself, “we can play Russian Poker,” which is more commonly known as Russian Roulette. Luckily you brought your uncle’s revolver and a bullet. So, you load the gun, putting the bullet in the last slot of the 5 chambers, point the gun at your friend’s right side and pull the trigger three times. It’s not going to fire until the fifth time. Right?. Oops. On the third pull, the gun fires, and two days later your friend dies.

Who’d be dumb enough to do that, you ask? Well, a kid named Malone. Commonwealth v. Malone, 47 A.2d 445 (PA 1946). This was a case we discussed in class tonight. Part of the discussion focused on Malone’s failure to spin the chamber in between trigger pulls, which is the proper way to play Russian Roulette, apparently. So, as I was walking to the trainer, tonight, I decided to figure out the difference in the odds.

Malone’s Odds

So, we need to calculate the odds of at least one of the three trigger pulls firing. That is calculated as:

=1 – odds of all three trigger pulls NOT firing

because if all three didn’t fire then at least one had to fire. So, in this case, that would be:

=1 – (0.8) (0.75) (0.67)

Why do the odds decrease each trigger pull? Because it’s sampling without replacement. So, first trigger pull, there’s an 80% chance the gun doesn’t fire. (It’s a five chamber gun, remember.) But, the second time you pull the trigger, there’s only 3 empty chambers out of the 4 remaining, so only a 75% chance the gun doesn’t fire this time.

So, the odds that Malone’s going to blow away a “vital part” of his friend’s body are:

59.8%

Would Spinning the Chamber Have Helped?

So, the question was whether it would have helped if Malone had spun the chamber in between trigger pulls.

Well… First off, it probably would have given his friend a little time to reconsider his decision to tell Malone to go ahead and play the game. But, that’s beside the point.

In this case, the odds would now be calculated as:

=1 – (0.8) (0.8) (0.8)

Since each trigger pull would be an independent event (now we’re sampling with replacement), the odds of the gun not firing each time remains 80%. So now Malone’s odds of blowing away part of his friend are only:

48.8%

Well, that’s on the right side of 50/50, at least. In fact, that’s a relative decrease of 18%. But, would that have been enough to change gross recklessness to recklessness and gotten Malone down to involuntary manslaughter?

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Law School Orientation Update

We’ve had two days of orientation activities so far.  The first day was a basic introduction from the Dean and some faculty, followed by a part-time student reception. I’ve met several of my classmates so far, and even remember some of their names when I’ve run into them, again. Last night’s orientation activity was an introduction to the Legal Rhetoric program, including introductions to the writing we’ll be doing this semester as well as the research. Washington College of Law is known for turning out graduates with very strong research and writing skills.

We’ve heard Legal Rhetoric is going to be tough, and based on the syllabus, they were right. In addition to readings for class each week, there are frequent writing assignments, which look like they’re going to take a significant amount of time. Since my class is Monday night, that means the writing assignments have to be done by the weekend. Then there are additional sessions thrown in to teach us how to do citations (using the infamous Blue Book) and how to do legal research. I try to make myself feel better by trying to convince myself that this course will help me at work, when we need to do legal research and will improve the persuasiveness of my writing.

Tonight is the Dean’s BBQ, and tomorrow, we have a “practice lecture” which includes pre-class readings. Guess I know what I’ll be doing tonight.

I haven’t started reading. I should have. I have 25 pages for Contracts, about 50 for Legal Rhetoric, and six cases or so for Torts (I haven’t looked how many pages that is, yet.) due for Monday and Tuesday. And then more due for Wednesday and Thursday. I’ve been putting off the reading because once I get started, I’m in, and there’s no turning back. Before I get started, I’m trying to get everything else in order, because I think it’s all going to get pushed to the side and I will be completely preoccupied by work and school. So far, I’ve:

  • Paid bills
  • Gone to Costco and stocked up on everything I can.
  • Cleaned and tried to organize/de-clutter the kitchen, dining room and living room.
  • Almost figured out where the university pool is, and printed the recreational swim schedule.
  • Cleaned my big coffee pot
  • Created my LexisNexis and Westlaw accounts

I took the mornings off work this coming week, so I can get used to reading and preparing for school. I was going to take the entire week off, but then realized that I’d start the 2nd week of classes while having to catch up from a week and a half out of the office. (I also took last three days off this week, which is why I’m blogging on a Friday morning.)

Off to do some more errands and then lunch.